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Russia criticizes demands for Assad's exit

Jan. 23, 2013 at 7:14 PM

MOSCOW, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the main obstacle to peace in Syria is rebel insistence on toppling the government.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow Wednesday, Lavrov referred to the objectives of Syrian rebel forces as an "obsession with the idea of toppling the Bashar al-Assad regime." He added the Russian Emergency Ministry's removal of 77 Russian citizens from conflict zones in civil war-wracked country was not the start of an evacuation of all Russians.

Lavrov made clear Russia was unlikely to alter its position of support for the Syrian government, and its opposition to any international measures to force Assad from power, The New York Times reported.

More than 60,000 people have died in the two-year conflict, the United Nations reported.

Lavrov mentioned diplomats are in regular contact with Russian citizens in Syria and about 1,000 expressed interest in being taken to Moscow, but fewer than 100 "were ready to use that opportunity" when two Emergency Ministry planes, delivering humanitarian aid to Lebanon, were available to transport them home.

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